Fuel’s gold

HOW SMARTER use of delivery vans can bring big savings for foodservice firms – and cut emissions too.


New research from the Energy Saving Trust (EST) has revealed that UK businesses could save around £50m a year by reducing “unnecessary” weight in the back of delivery vehicles. It’s not the first time that there’s been a call to turn the white van man green: a couple of years ago, some European researchers concluded that empty vans used 8% less fuel than fully laden ones. However, this research is a little bit different – a little bit more realistic. And that makes it interesting to any business with a fleet of vans and trucks.


When it comes to assessing the fuel economy and emissions of vehicles, manufacturers use the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC). It’s a standard test, and provides comparable data, but it’s not very realistic (as many who have bought a new van or car will testify). The NEDC cycle contains gentle acceleration and periods of steady speed, but with more stop-start and faster acceleration the weight being carried could have a bigger impact.


With this in mind, the EST decided to use some new software developed by Cenex, the Centre of Excellence for Low Carbon and Fuel Cell Technologies. According to Robert Anderson, Cenex’s programme manager for fleet carbon reduction, the NEDC is so far from the real world it has become almost meaningless. On the other hand, “our software is based on a conglomeration of thousands of different driving styles all squashed together to get a real-world picture of realistic driving conditions”, he explains.


The model can be adjusted to account for different driving cycles (urban and extra-urban) and different vehicle loads. For the EST research, Anderson’s team analysed the performance of small (Volkswagen’s Caddy) and larger vans (Peugeot’s Boxer) in both urban and suburban settings.


Under urban conditions Cenex’s analysis found that smaller vans would use around 26% less fuel when empty than when fully loaded. A fuel saving of around 5% was achievable with a weight reduction of 150kg. As for panel vans such as the Boxer, the difference in fuel consumption was up to 33%, with 3% fuel savings achievable with a weight reduction of 150kg. “Removing 150kg from the larger van doesn’t have as much impact as the vehicle is heavier and this 150kg is a smaller percentage of the overall weight,” Anderson explains.


Not everyone can reduce their weight by 150kg, he adds, but if half the van drivers in the UK lightened their loads by 75kg – equivalent to three bags of cement – they could save a total of £50m on fuel each year. About 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions would also be saved. While this is of interest for builders carrying an extra three bags of cement around, what about food companies? Given the nature of a business like 3663, there are limitations to lightening the load, says Jason Monckton, the food distributor’s sustainability manager. He adds: “Packaging around goods is minimised while maintaining its prime purpose of protecting the goods and limiting damages. However, the goods are what they are.”


Monckton says that with multi-drop deliveries and “stem and spoke” routing it is imperative to maximise loads to minimise the distance travelled. “We work closely with our customers on an ongoing basis to ensure our deliveries and route planning are as efficient as possible, and reduce the time our customers need to set aside for checking in deliveries.”


There are other ways to cut fuel bills: 3663 also measures kilometres travelled per case (0.39km currently) and has an in- house reverse logistics operation whereby a vehicle is dispatched with a full load of orders and picks up goods from a supplier on the way back. About £3m has been invested in improving the environmental performance of its transport, saving £4m and 13,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. “Focusing on practical ways to reduce
our fleet’s environmental impact is the cornerstone of efforts” to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Monckton adds. And for food businesses, that isn’t always as simple as removing a few kilos from the delivery vehicles.


Lighten the load


Small van, urban: Uses 26% less fuel when empty than when full. Removing 150kg from the load offers a 5% fuel saving.

Larger van, urban: Uses 33% less fuel when empty than when full. Removing 150kg offers 3% fuel saving.

Small van, extra-urban: Removing 150kg offers 4% fuel saving.

Larger van, extra-urban: Removing 150kg offers 3% fuel saving.